Our Life in Burgundy

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December 29, 2015

Expo – Kevin Allebourg and the Clunygraphies Project

Filed under: Events,People — Tags: , , — Mary @ 23:27

There was an interesting exhibition tonight promoting the art of some of the local young people. It was organised by Pierre-Jean the mayor, himself a very talented artist. He kindly explained to us how the exhibition had come about.


Kevin Allebourg

Kevin Allebourg is a student at the Beaux-arts who shows lots of promise both in oil painting and illustration. His little brother also features in the Clunygraphies project.


The children taking part in the Clunygraphies workshops (photo JSL)

At the beginning of last year Anne Bernard invited three classes from junior schools in Cluny to attend 5 workshops, each lasting 2 hours. The children were instructed in the language and the octosyllable form of medieval poetry. They practised calligraphy and illustration using pens made from goose feathers. Their final project was to copy part of the manuscript of Roman de Renart, a collection of stories featuring animals, a sort of 12th century Aesop’s Fables.

Illustrated letter with Renart the Fox

Renart was the name of a fox in the stories and as a result of his popularity renard replaced groupil as the word for fox in the French language.

The work of the children and the paintings and drawings of Kevin Allebourg can also be viewed tomorrow, Wednesday 30 December from 5 – 8pm at the salle communale, Cortambert.


December 28, 2015

Sunday afternoon in Montçeau-les-Mines

Filed under: Places — Tags: , , — Mary @ 23:08

The Canal du Centre at Montçeau


It seemed a good idea at the time to give Chris a history of railways in the Saône-et-Loire (The Railways of Burgundy, Patrick Bennett 2015). He has always been interested in disused railways, and we often find ourselves nosing around old railway buildings along the voie verte, the track which used to be the railway between Chalon and Mâcon, passing through Cormatin and Cluny. After looking at this book I can see more adventurous railway themed trips coming up, to railway museums at Le Creusot and Mulhouse, and days out on steam trains.

Yesterday we took advantage of the glorious weather to look at the station at Montçeau-les-Mines, a town which benefitted immensely from the introduction of the railways in the 1830s.


Montçeau station: No need to hurry, there are only five trains today


Montçeau is a town built on coal. Coal was first dug out in the early 1800s but very little was produced until the 1830s when a mining company took over and deep mines were dug.  Shortly afterwards the first rails were laid to transport the coal to the Canal du Centre (constructed 1783-91) where it was loaded onto barges pulled by horses.


Barges on the Canal du Centre

Transport by rail was found to be much more efficient and by 1861 there were rail connections to the foundries at  Monchanin and Paray-le-Mondial.  Coal production soared.

Montçeau became a city in 1856 with 2,200 inhabitants, incorporating the outlying villages such as Blanzy and Sanvignes. A huge tract of land was sold to the mining company by the Robin de Barbentane family who owned the estate at Plessis.

The mining company was paternalistic towards its employees, building a church and graveyard in 1869 (there had already been 400 deaths from explosions), the post office in 1871 and the hospital and mairie in 1876.


Eglise Saint-Jean

The monument to the workers killed in the mines with the Mairie behind

At its peak in 1918 there were 12,700 miners extracting 2,786,500 tonnes of coal  (29,000 inhabitants). Montçeau continued to boom until the mid 1960s when production dropped to 2 million tonnes, then to 1 million by 1985, In 1991 there were only 650 miners left, The mines finally closed  in 2002 as it became cheaper to import coal from eastern Europe. Much of the coal had gone to fuel the nearby power station at Lucy which is currently being converted to run on gas. Of course as the mines closed there was less employment so the population of Montceau continued to decline, now 19,000 and steadily falling despite the regeneration of the town.

You can still see where the shafts were for the mines, and the lavoir (1930) is still there. Used until 1999, the lavoir was a building for washing and sorting the coal, the largest in Europe. Eleven railway tracks at its base could handle up to 840 tonnes of coal per hour. Despite being a historical monument the lavoir has been vandalised along with the two old electric locomotives inside.

The lavoir and coal trucks

Montçeau has a bad reputation, of being run down, a place of unemployment and poverty. But what we saw on our short visit was clean wide streets, lovely sculptures, interesting bridges and beautifully renovated buildings. The Canal du Centre is kept spotless and provides mooring for pleasure craft.


A lifting bridge…..

and mooring for boats

Old coal quarries have been turned into lakes and wasteland into parks. A great deal of effort and investment has been channelled into the regeneration of the area. There are new businesses with acres and acres of car parks, empty on the Sunday afternoon we were there. Notices in estate agents’ windows advertise lovely properties at half the price of houses in Cormatin or Cluny. Montçeau is definitely worth thinking about if you’re looking for a maison secondaire!

December 21, 2015

La Légende de Cylian

Filed under: Events,People — Tags: , , — Mary @ 22:10

“It’s not really a spectacle,” said the lady at the Haras “it’s more a fairy story for children“. Booking for two adults wasn’t going to be easy. “But please can we come? We’re English and we only understand theatre aimed at the average three year old. And we like horses”.

So this afternoon we were whisked away to a faraway land, the Pays de Lune, where Baba Yaga, a wicked fairy, steals Cylian, the precious unicorn. The moon predicts that only the most pure and bravest fairy can overturn the wicked fairy’s spells and find the unicorn. After many years Louna arrives….


Evil Baba Yaga threatens Louna

 The stables at the Haras were transformed into a stage set. Silhouetted behind a curtain we see Baba Yaga cast her spells and steal the unicorn. The good fairy asks the children to help and we troop after her, through the enchanted forest and deep into the dark dark woods.  Quite soon I hadn’t the slightest idea what was going on but, prompted by an assertive five year old, the children got into the spirit of the adventure. Over the ravine and up a tree goes the good fairy, from where she hands the children bags of fairy dust. I’m not sure why but it enables the children to find the key to the dungeon (the tack room) where Cylian is held captive. The bad fairy begs for forgiveness and Cylian is set free.

The good fairy releases Cylian…..

…..the bad fairy repents and everyone lives happily ever after

The show was produced by two of the artists in residence at the Haras, Laetitia and Camille. Well done to both of them. We do enjoy the children’s shows. Perhaps one day we’ll appreciate French theatre for grown-ups but up to date we have found it rather weird.

December 20, 2015

The weekend before Christmas

Filed under: Events,People,Places,Weather — Tags: , , — Mary @ 21:35

It’s beginning to feel like Christmas with all the lights and decorations. This year’s decorations in Cluny feature Olaf the Snowman.

Olaf waiting in vain for some snow


It has only just dawned on us why most villages have scenes of smurfs and Disney characters rather than Mary & Joseph in the stable. Apparently, with France being a secular society, religious figures are not allowed in public spaces. Hence coming into Toury you will see characters from Star Wars by the road (beautifully painted by the mayor) while the creche is in the garden of our friends Ruth & Joe.


The baby Jesus arrives on Christmas Eve while the Three Wise Men have a long way to go and don’t appear for ages.

We’ve enjoyed celebratory aperos after various activities. At the library on Saturdays the normal apero turned into a full blown lunch.


Why going to the library is popular (photo Sophie)

We were joined by the young actors of the Compagnie Girouette who had arrived for the children’s theatre later in the afternoon. Despite not having a child but we went anyway, the show being easy to understand as it was all slapstick and music. The kids laughed all the way through, including us big ones. The snacks and satsumas went down a treat too.


Compagnie Girouette in Sur le Banc

Sunday morning saw the last balade of the year so we took some vin chaud and buns. It was rather windy but sunny and we enjoyed a walk starting in Donzy. Unfortunately we had to bypass the woods to avoid the hunters but we enjoyed the fresh air and good company.


Trying not to be blown off the hill!

And back for some vin chaud

Hopefully the weather will continue to be fine during Christmas week. In Cormatin today there was a large group of people having Sunday lunch on the pavement outside the Café de la Poste. Nothing remarkable about that. But in late December?

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